Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 173)



  160. But the other thing you have to look at is it is in Europe again in 2004, it has never been in Africa or South America, it has been once in Asia, the United States will want it again and have the money to pay for it. Are you not talking about 2020 as the first real opportunity when we will have a reasonable chance of getting the Olympic Games, and are we not allowing our whole sports policy in this country to be obsessed by this bid instead of looking at how we provide proper facilities to ensure we have successful athletes at those Olympic Games rather than being worried about getting them for ourselves?
  (Mr Casey) Taking the last point, I entirely agree with you, Mr Maxton. It was very interesting to see Denise Lewis in the newspapers a couple of weeks ago and on the Michael Parkinson Show talk about the real absence of good facilities at local level. We totally agree with her and we reckon we need something like £10 billion in England alone simply to provide the community with good access to sports centres and swimming pools and athletics tracks and other major facilities. It is many decades of under-investment in sport that we are facing at the moment. Of course, the Lottery has made an enormous difference but it cannot deal with the sheer demand. Indeed, it is rather like the Forth Railway Bridge where we are now facing a situation where many of the sports centres that were built in the 1970s are closing down and need major refurbishment. We need to catch up with that issue and we also need to encourage people in sports development terms.

Ms Ward

  161. You precis the background to the problems that we have had and you have said that ultimately athletics wanted a stand-alone facility. Do you think that we can really justify allowing them that stand-alone facility?
  (Mr Brooking) That is really the idea of the feasibility study because there is such a split of opinion. When you look at the overall sports policy we were asked to look at it as far as Wembley was concerned but we did not know that is where it was going to be in London, so it was very difficult at that stage, and then of course the bid was not put in and we moved on to Picketts Lock again, and then we were told that was not to be considered as an Olympic venue. Then there was to be another stadium in London. Although we have not had discussions yet, now we have had a letter from the BOA we will have a meeting to have a look. The inference we heard this morning was that it could well be in East London. That would involve other stadia, so it is a huge problem, but as a stand-alone athletics stadium, naturally one of our concerns is the sustainability and viability. The more events you have at such a facility the more costs you have as well because it is losing more money.

  162. If you are awaiting a feasibility study to decide whether it is justified, does that not suggest that there has been a step taken too quickly, which is to really burn the bridges of Wembley Stadium and the option that was available there, before you then moved on to the stand-alone option that, which it stands at the moment, we have no idea whether it is feasible?
  (Mr Casey) What we have always tried to do is to reflect the demands from the sport. The site of Wembley, the need for Wembley, the number of events at Wembley and so on all follow the demands of the sport and it looked as though athletics was going to use it once for the World Championships and possibly for the Olympics and then they obviously decided to alter their stand on that and it has now moved to Picketts Lock. In a sense we have got to reflect that as a new demand from athletics and judge that objectively to see what the position is. As other commentators have said this morning, a stand-alone single athletics stadium is very, very difficult, if not impossible, to break even, and therefore the feasibility study is not really to assess that (because I think we know that already) but rather to assess how it could be viable. We have heard from David Moorcroft that other people such as the local authorities and the Marathon Trust may come in with some revenue costs. We will certainly want to make sure that that is on a long-term basis because on the long-term sustainability of these facilities in Manchester and many other parts of the country it is essential that someone takes that risk and responsibility for the facility in the long-term.

  163. I get the impression that the situation you are in is not the situation that Sport England would like to be in. Do you feel you have been pressurised, from whatever places that may be involved, into being in this position?
  (Mr Casey) I think that we obviously see in many parts of the country the enthusiasm that people have for particular facilities and very often we share that enthusiasm, but we have equally got another responsibility and that is to judge projects objectively. The Secretary of State has given us a legal responsibility to judge things against certain criteria, which we have discussed, and it is important to get that balance right.

  164. But the difficulty that you are in, as I see it, is that you are being asked to assess the feasibility of this project when the reality is that the Secretary of State seems to have committed you to backing this project in principle.
  (Mr Brooking) I think it is fair to say that we got to July and almost October in 1999 and certainly support was there for Wembley and the design that came forward to cater for the World Athletics Championships at Wembley. Then, as I say, there was the Ellerbe Becket report and two key decisions and the key one was athletics changing their mind and the feeling they could get a stand-alone athletics stadium. We have got to look into the feasibility of that and help them to compile that feasibility study and then it will have to go to the Panel. We have made it very clear that there is no automatic element to this and the scheme has got to stand on its own merits because we have had a number of very good schemes which we have had to turn down because of lack of funds.

  165. Where would you like to put your money in terms of the strategy for athletics, whether that be stadia, projects of one sort or another, funding of athletics? What is your strategy as Sport England?
  (Mr Casey) If I could ignore the World Championships from the moment and look at what I think is ideal. As Dave Moorcroft fairly said, we are trying to do this. Over the next 18 to 20 months we have already committed to investing in indoor athletics facilities at Bath University, at Birmingham, at Manchester for the Commonwealth Games, both indoor and outdoor, at Loughborough University, in Sheffield, improvements at Gateshead, and obviously we are finishing off discussions with Crystal Palace and Picketts Lock so I imagine by the end of 2002 there will be a very good network of indoor and outdoor facilities for the country. We believe strongly that it is important that there is that network to make sure you are getting those facilities as close to the grass roots as possible. I think that is very exciting. I think the strategy for the development of athletics in this country, Sport England, the three sports and United Kingdom Athletics are at one about what should actually happen. I am pleased to say that it is happening.

Mrs Golding

  166. Can you tell me how you allocate your budget for the staging of international sporting events? How is it allocated? Do you look forward? Do you have a list of events that could be coming here and decide, "We better keep some money aside to do that", or is it just haphazard?
  (Mr Casey) The present system is that under the UK Sports Council they have set up a Major Events Steering Group, that is to do three things essentially. One is to provide guidance to governing bodies of sport who are thinking of bidding for a major event. I am very much stressing, "thinking" of bidding at the very early stages. Secondly, it is to act as a filter for those events, so that we do not stage all of the major events in one place or in one country or at one time. Thirdly, to either fund it itself or to work with home countries sports councils to fund events in their particular territories. There is a strategy, and there is a system to try to rationalise major events coming to this country. I think that is a welcome development, some of which came out of the Select Committee Report of 1999 or, indeed, earlier than that.

  167. If you know an event is coming to this country and you are told about it, how far ahead are you told about it so that you can think about it and put the views in about it?
  (Mr Casey) We encourage the governing bodies to come to us as early as possible, not at the time they are about to bid, but actually when they are thinking of bidding, so that we can work with the governing body at that particular point. It does vary from sport to sport. Some international federations do have a very long lead-in time for events, others have a very short lead-in time. It is interesting, for example, if we stick to athletics, that the World Athletics Championships in Edmonton, which are taking place in August this year, were only decided in August of 1999 at the World Championships in Seville. That does not make sense, and it is good to see that the IAAF is taking a longer lead-in time to events—they actually know it is London, Paris, Berlin—on a rolling programme.

  168. I was not thinking of ones which have major capital costs and on-going costs, I was thinking of something like the World Fly Fishing Championships, which was held in England, and which they were told, "Get on with it". This is an international event, people come from all over the world and they were told, "We are not interested". If it had been football with a major capital scheme, with hopes for something and on-going costs they would have been sitting down trying to negotiate. Why does that kind of thing happen?
  (Mr Casey) Mrs Golding, we admitted the last time we discussed the World Fly Fishing Championships, I think I said, "I do not think we got it quite right". If there is another World Championships we would be very happy to sit down with the angling bodies to see if we can do better this time.
  (Ms Simmonds) It is partly a balance of funding. You have to have a balance of funding to put into different parts of sport.

  169. £20 million into football here, there and everywhere, money into athletics but nothing to fishing, a major sport.
  (Ms Simmonds) I do have to reiterate that Sport England is very keen to see these international events coming to Britain. Coming from the private sector I have to say there is a huge economic benefit for local communities and for the country with these events coming here. The London Marathon believe that the economic spin-off is about £63 million: that is a huge amount of money and we would not want you to go away thinking we are not supportive of those events.

  170. This is the point I made at the time, it made no difference.
  (Mr Brooking) We go back to how far will the money go. There is massive demand. We heard the ideas of athletics and Crystal Palace. Naturally every sport would want everything they can get, but we would soon run out of the cash. It is trying to prioritise and trying to get a balance and a spread, I agree.

Mr Keen

  171. There was a complete change of logic: originally the argument was, do we need to put athletics in Wembley for the Olympics via a platform? I remember asking the Secretary of State when he came along and he said that instead of, his words, wasting money on a platform of £23 million—some people say £40 million—it would be much better to have a stadium for athletics and use that money to have a permanent stadium. I remember saying to the Secretary of State, in order to get the Olympics you are not going to achieve that with just a concrete bowl somewhere, holding 80,000 people, and he did not really answer the question. Since then, the argument about whether there should be a platform for the Olympics in Wembley or in a separate stadium has disappeared because now we are talking about Picketts Lock not just being a stadium to attract and have the Olympics, but a permanent home for athletics. If that argument had been put in in the first place, we would have Wembley for football and Picketts Lock for athletics that would have been sensible. To, first of all, argue that we did not want a platform, which was going to become a risk, but we would have the Olympics at Picketts Lock, now suddenly we have Picketts Lock not as an Olympic Stadium and we have been told to get the Olympics we have to have another stadium in East London, which is not going to be sustainable. Can you take me through that? It seems completely illogical, from beginning to end.

  (Mr Brooking) The £20 million was for the platform. The other important factor to emphasise was the other £20 million was for the warm-up track, which was the long-term legacy. The most expensive of the three possible options was nearly £20 million, that is how we came to the £40 million. Everyone, as we all know, was okay with that. The actual platform design was 67,000, although David mentioned a lot of empty seats, the actual empty seats was not an issue back in July 1999 and the sight lines were great. The problem then for an Olympics, at the time it was insisted it was 80,000, which is not apparent now, it had to get to 80,000. How were we going to do that extra 13,000? The design came forward. BOA were unhappy about one or two sight lines, and that is where the Ellerbe Becket report came about. Then Picketts Lock moved on, again we know the two decisions that were key and we have tried to service that one because athletics have changed their mind. We are now trying to find a stand-alone facility. We have heard the possible options of temporary seats undercover; they are all going to be gauged in the feasibility study. It is an area that has to be resolved once and for all. You really have to lock-in: once you make decisions you have to get the continuity and the big problem is if you do get a change.

  172. Like some of us have already said, if we ever get the Olympics it is going to be at Wembley Stadium: they are not going to build a stadium in East London costing £300 million or £600 million. How did it get mixed up with this?
  (Mr Casey) That is a question that Mr Maxton put: the likelihood of a bid for the Olympics or dealing with the Olympics. We took the view, and the three sports and Wembley took the view, that it would not be appropriate at that point to build a stadium of that design on the basis that we might bid, and we might win it and we might win it in a defined time period. In a sense, all we said was if a bid goes forward we need to find a way Wembley could be converted for Olympic use. If there was a third stadium in London you have the same questions again about sight lines and the compatibility of athletics track and field sports. Everyone around the world is trying to find innovative ways of handling this. We saw that in Atlanta with the change of use after the Olympics. We have seen it in Sydney after the Olympics. We will see it in Manchester. We will see it in Melbourne for the Commonwealth Games where, again, they are looking at how they can adapt existing facilities. I have not seen the press article this morning, but clearly New York, in terms of potentially bidding for the Olympics in 2012, is also looking for an innovative way forward. If you go away from athletics, if you take another sport, like swimming, many countries in the world who would like to stage the World Swimming Championships are also concerned about having a swimming pool with something like 25,000 or 30,000 spectators around it. Many of them talked about putting temporary swimming pools in exhibition centres and then taking them away, because they do not have the legacy for these huge stadiums. We are all struggling to find innovative ways of handling these major events, because the long-term viability soon catches up with the initial capital cost.

  173. Finally, there is some logic in David Moorcroft's argument, what would you say to me if I said, "Why do we not have the Olympics permanently in Ethiopia, because there are world class athletes in Ethiopia, and have one stadium forever?" It would save all of this waste of money and waste of time that we spend arguing about it.
  (Mr Casey) If you get major events right, Mr Keen, it leaves good legacy facilities for the community. We are really pleased in Manchester with all of the facilities, the swimming pool, which is open; the hockey centre in Belle Vue; the tennis centre on the Eastlands site; the National Sports Centre; the Bolton Arena and the Bowls Centre at Heaton Park. All of those are going to be for community use. You see that already with the Aquatic Centre in Manchester: it is well used by the community, by the universities and for top level training as well. Hosting major events is a good reason for building these facilities: the long lasting legacy for the community is excellent. If we can handle that properly, we can do that in other parts of the country as well.
  (Mr Brooking) The sports development potential is massive in any major event. We are managing to work with people in Manchester, and if you work with DfEE you get into the academic stream with youngsters, and they can do a whole range of projects and a whole range of different subjects focusing on that particular event. Then afterwards, as Derek said, the legacy of the sports development opportunity is massive. The event is important, but it does come and go very quickly: it is the build«up before and the after-effect which is the key to wanting to host a major event. We did have examples in the early 1990s where an event was held for a sport, but the sports development potential was never fulfilled. We tried to rectify that. You have to have a much longer lead-in time so all those structures are put in place.
  (Ms Simmonds) About 6,000 jobs will be created in Manchester and it meets all sorts of other government targets to do with social inclusion. There is a lot of regeneration that has resulted from that project.

  Chairman: Thank you. I apologise to colleagues whose questioning I had to cut short, but since everyone wanted to ask questions in a limited period that is what had to happen. I would like to thank our witnesses very much indeed.

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